The Darkness Should Come Later

    The final X-Men film under Twentieth Century Fox films will be released early in June before the rights to the characters are absorbed into the MCU juggernaut. Simon Kinberg gets a final chance to erase the debacle that was The Last Stand. Kinberg wrote The Last Stand, with directing duties going to Brett Ratner. 

    With Ratner now persona non grata in Hollywood, and director of X-Men Apocalypse, Bryan Singer, heading in the same direction as Ratner, it fell to Kinberg to make his directorial debut in a series he has been involved with since the risible Last Stand.    

    Though he has many writing credits, Kinberg is predominantly known as a producer. Of the films he is credited with writing, one could say that the results have been mixed. Of the better films he has been involved with – Days Of Future Past, Apocalypse  – he has written the screenplay from another person’s story.

     On Dark Phoenix, not only is he producing and directing, but he has also written the story and screenplay. For those who do not know and look to IMDB, the names credited with the story – Chris Claremont, John Byrne, and Dave Cockburn, wrote the original, staggeringly brilliant comic story, The Dark Phoenix Saga.

    That story was a complex web, involving Mastermind, a mutant who manipulated what a person could see and was part of the Hellfire Club, a band of mutants who want to gain vast power, both political and financial. The Hellfire Club was somewhat bastardised for the film, X-men – First Class. 

    In the comics, Jean Grey, who would become Phoenix and then Dark Phoenix, was at one point living a dual reality as Mastermind, aided by a device from mutant telepath Emma Frost, had her believing she was a member of high society in the eighteenth century.

    Her confusion and struggle to wield the cosmic Phoenix power resulted in her committing a heinous act and attracting the attention of the Shi’ar Empire and forcing a standoff between the X-men and the Shi’ar Imperial Guard. 

   The X-men lose and Jean, realising her unlimited power could be a danger to all that she held dear, commits suicide. 

    Unlike the MCU’s carefully mapped out, cleverly structured over-arcing story leading to the highly anticipated Avengers Endgame, the X-men films have been a mishmash of loosely connected films with varying quality.  

    I am not averse to films deviating from the source material, especially when it comes to comics. To make an exact replica of a comic is a little pointless. It is simply animating something you would have already seen.

    Watchmen faithfully follows Alan Moore’s comic of the same name. It is as though the comic was used as a storyboard for the film. Unfortunately, because it so rigidly follows the comic, it is somewhat lacklustre.

    The MCU has made some adjustments to characters from the comics, mostly when it comes to the costumes and for the sake of the story. For the most part, the elements that are, for the comic book fans, important, have been kept. Over at Twentieth Century Fox with the X-men, there was no such consideration.

    Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine has always been the best and most popular character in the X-men franchise. Jackman should never have been considered for the role, as the character in the comics is five-foot-three, compared to Jackman’s six-two. 

   It is a credit to Jackman’s commitment to the role – especially in the phenomenal Logan – that comic book fans embraced him to such a degree that him giving up the role has left a big hole for some actor to fill. 

     The ignoring of one of Marvel’s most popular character’s height is a minor grievance compared to the litany of mistakes and ‘artistic’ decisions that have been made in the X-men cinematic universe under Twentieth Century Fox.

   The characters of Cyclops, Angel, Beast, Iceman and Marvel Girl, who formed the original X-men, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1963, were interesting, fleshed out, plucky teenagers. With the exception of Jackman and Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy who played old and young versions of Charles Xavier/Professor X respectively, and Ian McKellan and Michael Fassbender, who portrayed old and young Magneto, the other characters have been poorly represented in the franchise. 

   I will go and see Dark Phoenix, even though I’m not filled with joy at the prospect. Perhaps Kinberg will do what James Mangold did and follow an awful film, The Wolverine, with a modern-day classic, Logan. I can only hope. 


Mirage – a review (spoilers)

    Sticking with Netflix and watching films so that you may not have to, I sat down to watch Oriol Paulo’s Mirage, a Spanish thriller that blends time travel, murder, and parental angst into a compelling viewing experience. 

   It is 1989 and the biggest symbol of division in Germany, the Berlin Wall, is coming down. An easy teens Nico Lasarte (Julio Bohigas-Couto) has set a camera in his bedroom to record himself singing and playing the guitar. Outside there is an electrical storm brewing, news reports saying the storm will last for seventy-two hours. 

   Nico’s mother, Maria (Mima Riera), comes into his room as he is playing. She is off to work and leaves him alone in the house. As she drives away, she does see her neighbour, Clara Medina (Nora Navas) sitting in a car waiting.  

    Nico hears fighting from his neighbour’s house and looks out to see an altercation taking place behind curtains across the road from his home. He goes over to the house and sees Hilda Weiss (Clara Segura), dead on the floor. As he looks up from her prone body, he sees Ángel Prieto (Javier Gutiérrez) coming down the stairs brandishing a large kitchen knife. 

    Scared witless, Nico dashes out of the house with Ángel behind calling after him. Nico runs into the road and is killed by a van. 

     Twenty-five years later Vera Roy (Adriana Ugarte) is waking up in her new home with her young daughter, Gloria Ortiz (Luna Fulgencio). Her partner, David Ortiz (Alvaro Morte) is away on business, returning the next day. Vera works in a hospital as attending surgical support. It turns out that she had given up a chance of becoming a surgeon to look after her daughter.

    In the evening, when David is back, Vera sneaks up on him whilst he is looking through some old books and startles him. Outside there is another electrical storm brewing. As before, it is expected to last for seventy-two hours. Vera and David open a cupboard and find the old cathode ray television that Nico had been using, along with the video camera and his old tapes. 

   They get the old equipment working and watch some of his videos. They are spooked when the television works even without a video cassette being in the camera. It shows the news broadcast from the same night twenty-five years earlier. They go to have dinner having invited the neighbours, Clara and her now grown-up son, Aitor (Miquel Fernández). 

   David tells Aitor about the old television and how they saw a boy playing the guitar on the tapes. Aitor tells them how the boy’s name was Nico and that he was his best friend. Clara gets distressed and tells him to stop telling the story. Later in the evening, David is googling Nico and tells Vera about the murder and how Ángel confessed. 

   Vera wakes in the middle of the night and finds the old television is on. As she goes to turn it off, the storm rumbles and somehow she sees Nico. He also sees her. They get talking and Vera tells him not to go out into the road. She is frantic, screaming at him not to go outside. 

   Vera wakes up in the hospital. A nurse comes and tells her that they are waiting for her in surgery. She comes into the operating theatre to see the patient that she assisted with operating, anaesthetised on the table waiting for her to operate. She goes to her daughter’s school. She had no daughter and nobody knows who she is. 

   She goes to find David and he has no idea who she is. Vera is frantic and confused. She goes to see the police and speaks to Inspector Leyra (Chino Darin). He asks her to relate her story to him. He tells her that she does not exist and neither does her daughter. 

   Back in 1989, Nico is trying to contact Vera in the future, having not been killed due to her intervention. Vera continues to be presented with evidence that her life as she knows it is just a fantasy. When Nico sees Ángel leave his house, he takes the opportunity to go and check out what has happened to Hilda. He finds her dead in the bath. 

   Nico is forced to hide under the bed when Ángel returns before he can leave the house. Whilst under the bed he finds Clara’s watch. He also witnesses Ángel dismembering Hilda’s body. Unfortunately, when he tries to tell the police, they do not believe him because of an elaborate alibi ruse involving Clara’s brother, Román (Albert Perez).

    Meanwhile, an increasingly desperate Vera breaks into her house and is confronted by David’s partner, Ursula (Aina Clotet). They call the police, but a blackout in the storm allows her to escape.  She sneaks into Aitor’s car and tells him how they met. Aitor does not believe her. Vera remains undeterred, determined to get back to her daughter and the life she knows. 

    Vera recalls David telling how Ángel had, in the life she remembered, told the police that he planned to bury his wife under the abattoir. She tells Leyra. He finds Hilda’s body but tells Vera she needs to go to an address he writes down. 

   She goes to the address and finds David cheating on his partner. She forces him to find Nico’s address so as she can go to him. David does as she asks. Vera goes to the address and meets Maria, who had been expecting her. Nico turns up and she sees that Leyra is in fact, Nico. 

    He tells her that they had a life together and that she should forget her other life. She tells him that he needs to reset the timeline as that is the only way he will be able to save her. She then throws her self off of the balcony.  Vera wakes up in her bed, back with David and Gloria. She goes and finds Hilda’s body and calls the police. She meets Leyra again. The end. 

    At just under two and ten minutes Mirage is about the normal length of many films these days. After the opening half hour of set up, the film hurtles along at a good pace, flitting between 1989 and 2014 as we follow repercussions of Vera’s compassionate act. 

   Vera’s horror and realisation of what has happened are played out so believably, with everyone reacting to her as you would expect – thinking she’s a crazy person – is fantastically realised. For Vera, everything is the same but completely different. Most pertinently, her daughter does not exist in this reality. 

   Adriana Ugarte is riveting as the fiercely driven Vera. Her total commitment to getting back to her daughter is ever present, the solving of a twenty-five-year-old murder secondary. You believe that Ugarte’s Vera would do absolutely anything to get back to her child. 

    The unraveling of the mystery around Ángel and Clara and Hilda is interesting, explaining Clara’s curt reaction at the dinner early in proceedings. Nora Navas is brilliant as the tortured Clara in the original reality, compared the Clara who exist in Gloria free reality. 

    The scenes that show what happened that fateful night in the new reality are very good, especially Clara Segura’s Hilda confronting her husband as she catches him in their bedroom with Clara, leading to the alteration and ultimately, her death. 

   Music plays its part in the film, setting the tone for scenes and creating tension. At other times, the absence of music also adds to the tension. The film is shot functionally, no unnecessary flourishes or camera pyrotechnics. Instead, the story and time jumps are edit together beautifully, told in such a way that, even with the sporadic time switches, you are never pulled out of the story. 

    The only, small, disappointment is the easily seen twist of Inspector Leyra being Nico. It is a small thing and not something that overly detracts from the film. 

     Mirage is a highly enjoyable film, mixing fantastical and emotional elements to great effect. Of the many films available on Netflix, I would definitely put Mirage on the make time to watch list. 




Memories Of A Film Shoot – The Good, The Bad And The Tennis

It’s a week after the shoot and my film – The Good, The Bad And The Tennis – is in the home straight. It is about three years since my last film and the nerves preceding this shoot seemed to have helped enormously. Never have I planned so well for a shoot. Even though I knew the script and what I wanted to see – I did write it after all – having decided to use non-actors in all the roles, I knew I had to be able to get my ideas across clearly.

Having put out feelers for a camera and sound person on the initial response was not good. Acting as the producer – I pay for everything – I offered a middling to low fee for both roles. For those who have never had to deal with getting a crew together, let me assure you it is both very easy and extremely difficult.

It is easy because there are loads – and I means loads – of talented people out there who want to make and be involved with filmmaking. Finding a competent camera person who is prepared to work for a fraction of their daily rate is relatively painless. Also, because one can easily look at their past work, it is easy to see if you like their work or not. With sound, it is more awkward. I have worked with both good and bad sound people. A good sound person is worth every penny of the hard earned cash you give to them. Make no mistake, bad sound will ruin your film no matter how good the story, camera work or acting.

It seemed to be going smoothly. I put out the calls for the two positions and begun to receive responses. The first response was for the sound person. The would-be applicant pointed out – no doubt he felt helpfully – that the pay rate was too low. He did not get the job, but I did raise the pay rate. I got a couple of replies from camera people and after settling on one, I was hoping I would be able to focus on a creating a storyboard. He quickly fell out of the project. As did the one after him.

When people start dropping from a shoot, it makes you question whether you have a viable project. I was beginning to panic a little as I had already got the actors and had set a date, but I had no crew. As luck would have it, the cameraman I used on my first two shorts got in contact with me. Having worked with him before, I knew what to expect. I still did not have a sound person. My camera guy came to the rescue again. He could supply the sound person. My crew was locked.

Besides the storyboard, I also decided I would create a shot list. A shot list is exactly what it says; a list of all the shots that will be used. The shot list serves two purposes: it reduces the amount of unnecessary coverage – very popular in the digital age – so one does not end up with so many shot options that the edit becomes unwieldy. It also allows you to keep track of the shots. (On my second shoot I had to call everyone back because I forgot to shoot some scenes.)

Another thing the shot list does, is it forces you to do is edit the film in your mind beforehand. When it came to the actual edit, I had completed a rough edit on the same day as the shoot, with the shots ninety to ninety-five percent locked.

The coloring, look and music are probably the things that have taken up the most time. Just finding the music has been a real job! As I did not employ a musician – I am not independently wealthy! – I had to use that vast and brilliant library known as the internet. We, filmmakers, are somewhat blessed in this digital and internet age, in that we can utilize the talents of people from all over the globe, that in times past would not have been available to us.

With my film now close to completion – need to shoot one more scene…! – and the trailers and promo stuff out, I am trying to ensure that my next project is not three years hence! Fear and laziness have kept me from pursuing my passion for filmmaking for too long, which is a terrible waste, as I enjoy the entire process immensely. I have two more short projects that are ready to go and many a written work on the go. Time to get back to the filmmaker dream.


Worthy Sequels

As an aspiring screenwriter, I, like many, sometimes get caught up in the haughty conceit of thinking of film sequels as a tasteless, feeble and gratuitous attempts to elicit the hard earned from the film-going masses.

   Why can’t they write something new? We wail, convinced that if – when – they read one our brilliant works or even just an outline, they would find the next great tentpole movie. Of course, if that were to happen, we would never do a sequel. No. Nope. Never. A sequel is the laziest kind of movie. What self-respecting scribe would take on a sequel gig? Stop shouting about Joss Whedon and Alien 3! He was trying to help! Never diss Joss!

   Anyway, as much as there are one or two films that may have gone somewhat sequel-mad, following the tried and tested formula of getting progressively worse – Police Academy, The Terminator, Die Hard, The Matrix, Resident Evil, Jaws – to name a few. Sequels are not always a terrible idea, some stories naturally lend themselves to an extension. You want to know what happened next. Sometimes the sequel tops the original.

   One of the best sequels ever made (if you have not seen it, stop reading now and go and watch it! You should hang your head in shame!) is The Godfather part two.

     Generally speaking, films of books tend to depart from the source material. Sometimes it’s because some aspects are unfilmable or would be prohibitively expensive to make, though with the rapid advancements in CGI a lot of things that were considered unfilmable in the past, are now even possible on a home computer! There was also the egos of creatives involved, director or writer thinking they have come up with a better filmic view, or even the studio just wanting a more audience-friendly film.

    Whatever the reason many a book to screen translation has ended up an unholy mess. The Godfather and its brilliant sequel were written by Mario Puzo. Puzo also wrote the book so understood the nuances that needed to stay in the film and script. As an aside, he also happened to write the Christopher Reeves’ Superman one and two. Pity he was no longer around to help Zack – it’s too damn long! – Snyder! Though studios generally like to keep the authors away from the films – looking at you Anne Rice – director Francis Ford Coppola, a man known for getting his way,  was team Puzo. The Godfather part two is truly an astounding sequel.

   Another egomaniac director, James Cameron, who generally hits home runs, though his insistence that the truly awful Terminator: Genisys was a good film has put him on my laminated hate list forever, what he did do was make one of the greatest sequels ever in T2.

   The advance of computer graphics in the intervening seven years between films, allowed Cameron to bring an exciting, bigger spectacle to the screen, whilst still retaining the relentless urgency of the first film. Not only did we see a newer and more dangerous terminator, we believe the story.

   For an X-men fan, especially of the Chris Claremont era, Bryan Singer has a lot to answer for when it comes to the X-men canon. Having taken extreme liberties with almost every aspect of the X-men history, from their ages, group make up, founding members and costumes, it’s a wonder his X-men is watchable at all. Of the films he has made, the sequel to his first X-men film is probably his best. With a cracking opening, introducing a battling, teleporting Nightcrawler/Kurt Wagner, the film thunders along nicely, showing fantastical set pieces amid a modern take on oppression due to differences. After the first X-men film, with all its faults, fans were unsure as to whether he could follow it up. X2 tops the first film.

   Staying with the super powered, the most surprising sequel, especially considering its predecessors, is Logan. If you suffered the two previous standalone outings of the Wolverine franchise you have my sympathies. What is truly surprising about Logan is not how utterly brilliant it is, it’s that it was directed by the same person who did the Wolverine! James Mangold directed the risible The Wolverine, a film so bad it made me angry. Logan is possibly the biggest improvement in a franchise I have ever seen or heard of. From the opening scene – no spoilers – through to the final resolution, Logan is as close to a perfect X-men film as cinema has ever got.